How heavy rain would affect Safari Rally Kenya

George Donaldson leverages his decades of Safari experience to explain the difference between a dry and wet Safari


The clouds are gathering. The rain’s coming. The big questions are: how much and for how long? George Donaldson is a man who knows all about African rain, how it can impact on Safari Rally Kenya and what’s needed from a car to make the most of it.

Over to you, GD.

All the time, the drivers and co-drivers have to remember one thing: patience. George Donaldson

There’s the potential for the long rains – Kenya’s rainy season which runs through the spring months – to start during the rally proper.

That means very heavy rain. If that happens, we’re in for a treat.

The approach the drivers will have to take will very much depend on the weather. If the rains come, you have to be ultra-cautious, you cannot make a single mistake. The precision, accuracy and patience required to play the game correctly will be immense.

This rally will be won by the most intelligent driver; that’s my prediction.

We know the cars have come equipped with snorkels for the Safari this year, so if there’s massive water, they’ll be able to go through it with impunity. But there’s other setup changes the crews will need to make depending on conditions.

Suspension-wise, it’s all about ride height for these guys. If it’s lovely and dry and fast, they’ll change their anti-roll bars and their damper settings will be different. But what they’re looking for is the maximum amount of compliance from the car so that they can keep traction. If it’s muddy, the car doesn’t gain traction with stiff, hard suspension, so they will soften it up. Those are the changes to look out for if the stages go from dry to wet.

Road position could be critical too. It can really make a difference on a stage like Sleeping Warrior (SS10/13), which is over 22 miles (36km) long. The first car could actually be in front of the weather and not get any rain, and the car literally three minutes behind could be caught in the downpour all the way. That would be absolutely devastating. So the first man on the road, Thierry Neuville, would potentially have an advantage.

On a wet Safari Rally, it’s so easy to get stuck in the mud, and any driver who does is going to feel utterly robbed. You’ve simply got to be super-patient and super-clever, really thinking through every move in those tricky sections.

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Alex Fioio shows just how muddy the Safari Rally can get – this was in 1990

Do they go straight through a puddle at high speed, or do they cut to the left, or to the right? It’s a scary prospect for a driver because the differences in times on wet stages can be massive. The gains one driver may get from making the smart choice can be incredible.

The worst case for any of our crews will be if they get stuck in a ditch up against a tree, which is entirely possible from what I’ve seen. You’re sitting there feeling like you’re going absolutely nowhere, the feeling of frustration will be massive. It’s important to get out as quickly as possible – the same thing might happen to the crew you’re competing against.

But all the time, the drivers and co-drivers have to remember one thing: patience. Even when things don’t go your way, this is the Safari. Be patient, you might still win this one.